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Analysis

House to Mayor: One project at a time is all Honolulu can handle

With the precarious financial nature of the Rail project—just recently bailed out by the state—and the city's history of mismanaging it, the Speaker of the House today told Mayor Caldwell that the city should focus on getting its priority project under control before starting on ancillary ones.

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Speaker of the Hawaiʻi House of Representatives Scott Saiki has sent a letter to Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell asking that the city wait on building another multi-million dollar capital improvement project. The letter comes on the heels of the state legislature’s controversial approval, in September, of a funding mechanism to make up a $3 billion revenue shortfall in the city’s poorly managed Rail project through a combination of General Excise Tax extension on Honolulu residents, as well as a statewide Transient Accommodations Tax increase.

The Blaisdell complex project is part of the city’s efforts to initiate “transit-oriented” development along the Rail line, but the speaker does not believe that the taxpayers of Honolulu County should bear the burden of funding both projects simultaneously. The text of the letter follows below:

Dear Mayor Caldwell:

I respectfully request that the City Administration seriously consider postponing its work on the Neal Blaisdell Complex redevelopment project. Although the concept of modernizing the Blaisdell Complex is worthy, Oahu taxpayers cannot take the brunt of paying for rail construction, rail operations and this project. Once the City Administration committed itself to the rail project, it cannot further burden our future generations with additional debt. The current estimated $500 million-plus cost of the Blaisdell Complex redevelopment could be better spent on mitigation of unanticipated future rail construction cost increases, rail maintenance and operations, and transit oriented development­related infrastructure (such as sewage capacity).

It may also be more prudent for the City to wait for the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) response to its rail financial recovery plan submission. Because rail financing remains in a precarious stage, it is not strategic to signal to the FTA that the City’s prioritization of the Blaisdell Complex may divert resources from rail. If rail is indeed the City’s top priority, then the City must make every effort to achieve proper fiscal management to ensure the completion of the rail project.

I support the modernization of government facilities. However, I believe that the timing of the proposed Blaisdell Complex project is not currently in the best interest of Oahu taxpayers.

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